My nomination for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year is Chris Gayle, Captain of the Stanford Cricket Superstars and recent winner of a million dollars.
For anyone who’s been in the Sahara, in rehab, on the space shuttle or otherwise out of reach of the sports media lately, I should explain that on November 1st this year Texan millionaire Allen Stanford hosted the ‘20/20 for 20’ match at his own cricket ground in Antigua. His Superstars team vs the England national side – the winners to share $20 million, the losers to get nothing.
This sledgehammer incentive drove the media crazy, as intended. UK newspapers were full of articles about how this was the death of the game, the noble traditions were being abandoned in favour of meretricious cricket-for-dummies, at the behest of a crass moneybags who was openly bored by five-day, pure, real Test cricket. Pundits opined and blogs buzzed.
Meanwhile, the Superstars team started an intensive training programme, captained by Chris Gayle, a 29-year-old Jamaican left-handed batsman with attitude. West Indies international cricket is complicated and like most Boards the WICB is unpopular. Now Gayle had a chance to work with his team, some of them newcomers, away from the political problems and sponsorship in-fighting.
The England players were accused by the media of being mercenaries while constantly being asked what they would spend the money on. It was assumed they would win. Pink Ferraris were mentioned. But once in Antigua, they fell apart: on the day, they gave a truly appalling display as the winner-takes-all pressure visibly did their heads in, and set the Superstars a target of only 100 runs to win.
Gayle and his team played with verve, athleticism, concentration and apparently no nerves. They knocked off the 100 runs in 12 overs, with Gayle scoring a succession of sixes. They got the runs and took the money.
And this is why I am nominating Gayle: because it did his head in too. Later he admitted he felt “really stressed out” - he needed the money to pay for medical treatment for his brother and his father. But he conquered the nerves. At the wicket he was all confidence, and it conveyed to his team.
In the end, the match didn’t belong to Stanford, it belonged to the Superstars. They transcended the image of a rich man’s playthings and took control of the moment, and that was down to the leadership of Chris Gayle. In an era when sports are more and more dominated by wealthy investors, on Antigua’s Independence Day he showed exactly how to deal with that. No matter how much controversy and razzmatazz the rich guys create while promoting their brands, if you play the sport supremely well you can take it away from them and bring it back where it belongs - to the players and the fans.